Police spying could become constitutional issue for states

By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org

A ban against law enforcement’s warrantless electronic surveillance could soon make its way into Missouri’s state constitution.

SURVEILLANCE STATE: Missouri residents could have a chance to amend their state constitution and ban warrantless electronic surveillance by state and local law enforcement agencies.

Missouri state senators, in a near unanimous vote Thursday, passed a joint resolution — SJR 27 — that would place law enforcement warrant requirements on the state ballot this fall.

The bill — sponsored by Sen. Rob Schaff, R-St. Joseph — looks to give Missouri residents the chance to codify electronic privacy protections into their state constitution.

Schaff’s chief of staff, Chris Dunn, told Watchdog.org Schaff came up with the idea during a conversation the two were having while driving to the state capital.

“Overall, we think the public, whether it be in Missouri or across the country, is upset with how much government intrusion there is, and we hear more and more every day about what’s happening at the federal level,” said Dunn.

“As some of the technology that becomes available, the feds can afford it, eventually maybe the state of Missouri would be able to afford those types of technologies and implement them here,” said Dunn.

“We’re trying to protect cell phones, protect laptops, from being confiscated and having those stripped for their information,” he said.

Dunn expressed confidence the bill would pass the House, noting Schaff’s office has not received any calls criticizing the bill; some callers have even asked them to strengthen it.

While SJR 27 awaits assignment from the House Speaker to a committee, Dunn also told Watchdog.org he believes the bill will get placed before the Downsizing State Government Committee, chaired by Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, “without any problem. ”

“We asked for somebody who is extremely conservative to handle that for us,” said Dunn, referring to Curtman.

SJR 27 was read for a second time in the House on Monday.

Missouri is only one of several states, and courts, taking on the issue of police spying this year.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law Mar. 31 a bill banning law enforcement from collecting the location data of an electronic device without first obtaining a warrant.

In Tennessee, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers killed a similar bill, supposedly in the name of protecting Tennessee jobs. Tennessee’s legislative session is expected to end in late May.

Contact Josh Peterson at jpeterson@watchdog.org. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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